To fight our insane wars, we're wrecking our soldiers' ability to live with themselves and function in society, then regulating what's left of them with chemicals, which often make things immeasurably worse.
In the pursuit of order, could we possibly be creating more chaos, not simply externally -- in the shattered countries we're leaving in our wake -- but internally, in the minds of those soldiers?
The Los Angeles Times noted that Air Force pilot Patrick Burke was recently acquitted in a court-martial hearing on charges of auto theft, drunk driving and two counts of assault -- due to "polysubstance-induced delirium." This was, the Times explained, a turning point: the first official acknowledgement, by military psychiatrists and a court-martial judge, that the drugs that have become a routine part of military service -- in Burke's case, the prescribed amphetamine Dexedrine ("go pills") -- can contribute to temporary insanity.
Better living through chemistry!
The chemical fix pervades the whole culture, of course, and while drugs can produce astounding results, they are demonically seductive and always have a down side. And nowhere, it seems, is their misuse more dramatic than in the modern military.
"After two long-running wars with escalating levels of combat stress, more than 110,000 active-duty Army troops last year were taking prescribed antidepressants, narcotics, sedatives, antipsychotics and anti-anxiety drugs, according to figures recently disclosed to the Times by the U.S. Army surgeon general," Kim Murphy writes in the Times article. "Nearly 8 percent of the active-duty Army is now on sedatives and more than 6 percent is on antidepressants -- an eightfold increase since 2005."
Murphy quotes psychiatrist Peter Breggin, who has written on the correlation between drug use and violence: "Prior to the Iraq war, soldiers could not go into combat on psychiatric drugs, period. Not very long ago... you couldn't even go into the armed services if you used any of these drugs, in particular stimulants."
Now he's hearing from soldiers who tell him "the psychiatrist won't approve their deployment unless they take psychiatric drugs."
Uh, this sounds like addiction, and not on the part of the soldiers. The military itself is addicted to... well, as Murphy explains, "the modern Army psychiatrist's deployment kit is likely to include nine kinds of antidepressants, benzodiazepines for anxiety, four antipsychotics, two kinds of sleep aids, and drugs for attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, according to a 2007 review in the journal Military Medicine."
And the attorneys for Staff Sgt. Robert Bales, the alleged lone killer of 17 Afghans last month, have asked for a list of all the medications he was taking. There's a great deal of speculation about whether he was on one drug in particular, the anti-malarial drug mefloquine, which has been linked to bizarre and violent behavior and induces what's known in the ranks as "mefloquine rage."
All of which makes me think of the out-of-control use of chemicals in global agribusiness, in its for-profit zeal to turn the planet's arable land into endless acres of monoculture, in utter defiance of, and war against, the diversity of nature. This is our war against "pests" and "weeds," and, like our war against "evil," a.k.a., terrorism, or whatever, and our determination to impose an economic and political monoculture on the whole planet, we're not simply losing, we're destroying ourselves.
"'Farmers need technology right now to help them with issues such as weed resistance,' a Dow official said last month. Translation? Farmers need technology right now to help them with issues created by... technology introduced 15 years ago," Verlyn Klinkenborg wrote recently in Yale Environment 360 (reprinted at Common Dreams).
"Instead of urging farmers away from uniformity and toward greater diversity," he went on, "the USDA is helping them do the same old wrong thing faster. When an idea goes bad, the USDA seems to think, the way to fix it is to speed up the introduction of ideas that will go bad for exactly the same reason. And it's always, somehow, the same bad idea: the uniform application of an anti-biological agent, whether it's a pesticide in crops or an antibiotic on factory farms. The result is always the same. Nature finds a way around it, and quickly."
This is the domination mindset: As we seek dominion over nature and dominion over the nations of the world, we whack at our perceived enemies with an endless barrage of same old, same old, in increasingly lethal dosages. And when the war backs up into our psyches, we turn the chemical barrage on our own minds, on our own souls.
What will it take to transform institutionalized rage and fear into something that doesn't emanate from the reptile brain? How do we put love into collective motion? Until we do, the world will keep looking more and more like a sci-fi techno-dystopia.
Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His new book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press) is now available. Contact him at email@example.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.
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